Erna Rosenstein
The art of Erna Rosenstein is situated at the very heart of European postwar modernity as a radically autonomous answer to the question of culture after the Holocaust. Born in 1913, educated before World War II at the art academies in Kraków and Vienna, Rosenstein belonged to a generation of artists whose biographies were interrupted and transformed by the war. A leftist sympathizer in the 1930s, she was active on communist youth organizations and participated in illegal political work. Imprisoned at the Lviv ghetto during the war, she fled to hide and dodge, changing names and addresses; being Jewish, she carried a death sentence and was potential prey for informants and blackmailers. In 1942, she witnessed a Polish blackmailer murder her parents. The traumatic experience left a permanent mark on her art, recurring whether as a direct representation or as a veiled narrative. Rosenstein’s art is an example of dismantling the modernist idiom, negating the hierarchy that defines the high and low in art. Rejecting the lofty status of the artist, challenging the prestige of the artwork, deconstructing the notions of style and genre – she did all those things, even if she didn’t express them in strictly theoretical language. What Rosenstein proposed was art construed as a record, a mechanism of activating memory and establishing community with the recipient. For her, painting, object, drawing, or assemblage were testimonies of things done, never goals unto themselves. Hence her art is marked by heteronomy, transposition, and incoherence.
1913, Lviv / UA – 2004, Warszawa / PL
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Courtesy the Artist and Foksal Gallery Foundation, photo Adam Sandauer
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